Innovate, Integrate, Collaborate are more than just marketing keywords. A number of metrology and software companies I visited at IMTS are putting their development dollars to work in these areas and showing off the results. The end game is increased productivity through collaboration as well as improving individual devices and processes.
IMTS is big—too big to capture all of it in any single written piece that captures any single person’s perspective. Visiting it this year, I was struck by how overwhelming it is, and honestly, the pitiful few days I spent wandering the booths until my feet were sore could not even scratch the surface or do it justice.
But let me try, anyway.
Let’s start with a unifying theme. The three keywords seem the only way to make sense of it all—and how to write this column. Supplier companies are innovating new devices, figuring out new ways to integrate these devices into work cells and production lines that are opening new avenues of collaboration for manufacturers.
Much of manufacturing’s innovations are a result of advances in basic components, especially cheaper and faster computing, digital cameras, and data transfer devices. This is driving big, flashy trends—think additive manufacturing—as well as smaller but still significant innovations. In the world of metrology, one of my favorite beats, there were some interesting new devices that show how innovation and clever engineering is still the heartbeat of this industry.
For example, in the category of new features enabled by new technology are the many advances I saw in structured light scanners, sometimes known as ‘white light’ systems. These typically project fringe patterns onto a surface that are triangulated using offset cameras to extract dimensional measurements. Such a device is FARO’s new Cobalt Array Imager, announced at IMTS 2016. It now sports a high resolution 9 mega pixel imager,. Such projectors collect up to millions of points per second and are ideal in applications where broad areas need to be measured, such as automotive body applications. FARO offers the Cobalt in a system of multiple sensors, scanning simultaneously and controlled by a single computer for faster throughput.
I was shown another twist to using white light scanners by LaserDesign with its CyberGage 360. This is a cabinet device with two white light sensors, one looking down on a clear plate and one looking up from below it. The operator puts the object on the clear plate, pushes a button, and the device rotates the part, collecting data simultaneously from top and bottom to create a full 360° scan to 25 µm of accuracy, according to the company.
Another nifty innovation on display was the Zeiss AIMax cloud optical 3D sensor. The operators in the booth were kind enough to go into great detail with me, explaining how a single fringe projector and single camera can still produce a three-dimensional array of point clouds. Most such systems require two cameras for a stereoscopic view. Using a successive series of projections with varying patterns and fancy mathematics it produces points accurate up to 150 µm to 6 sigma, according to Robert Wasilesky, the BIW manager who chatted with me about it. The single, smaller camera allowed the device more freedom of action when moving around and inside automotive bodies, its primary design target.
Two factors that limit white light or fringe projection systems are reflective surfaces and the noise introduced from ambient light. Most such systems now use a blue light projector to help with ambient light, but reflectivity remains at times troublesome. For critical applications, users need to spray a coating on the part to reduce reflections. To solve this problem, Automated Precision Inc. (API) uses infrared projectors and cameras. The longer wavelength means surfaces are less reflective than in visible light and ambient light is minimized. The API RapidScan system is the first IR metrology scanner I have seen. It produces in the “single millions of points per second to 50 µm of accuracy under most conditions,” according to Eric Nemitz, director of new business for the company that I spoke to in the booth.
While the sensing technology was interesting, even groundbreaking to a degree, Nemitz was quick to point out the RapidScan sensor was only part of the value to the customer. The total Smart Factory Inspection System (SFIS) they offer also includes an API Radian laser tracker that guides a robot mounting the RapidScan, using an array of targets fitted over the scanner. “It is all about Integration,” said Nemitz.
Integration can be both large and small. On the small end, Keyence demonstrated a nifty device that packages a target tracking measuring system similar in principle to the SFIS system, only with a hand-held, rather than robot-guided, touch trigger probe. The target user is someone with no experience, according to Andrew Kominek, marketing manager for Keyence. As it was explained to me, if someone can use a caliper, they can use this XM “portable CMM”. The only part programming available is a teach-in mode, and the device also captures images during the “programming” phase, enabling easy work instructions for future use. the accuracy of the device is about 8 µm to 2 sigma. It is the type of device that fits well into Keyence’s portfolio, a simple but useful walk-up device for relatively small, precision parts.
Renishaw was another company that stressed Integration at IMTS. The company first introduced its now familiar Productive Process Pyramid a few years ago and continues to demonstrate integrated workcells, such as one at the IMTS that featured its Equator Gage device. The Equator is now offered with an extended height option for parts up to 300-mm high. Jeff Seliga, marketing manager, stressed that Renishaw helps in planning such cells with its customers, with the cell a demonstration of off-machine gaging, robot handling and data connectivity. Such cells provide automatic tool offset control and point-of-manufacture quality assurance.
Hexagon also showed off a new integrated product with its 360º Flexible Measurement Cell. Building on its WLS400A white light scanner design for robotic operation, the 360 FMC is an integrated workcell ideally suited for tasks like automotive sheet metal. It can be placed in line, near line, or off line and is offered in three configurations. The sensors themselves are designed for high vibration environments, and provide information either at the shop floor or into a factory-wide information system through the company’s QDAS software, according to Scott Everling, product manager for Hexagon. In fact, Hexagon as a company has well recognized the critical role it must play in the future in providing information rather than devices, rebranding itself as Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence late last year.
From integration flows the enhanced ability to collaborate, to push information across disciplines. Renishaw, famous for advancing metrology, went a step further a few years back and acquired metals-based additive manufacturing expertise. So now it makes things as well as measures things, a clear path to enhanced collaboration through integration. One of the new machines on display and shown to me at IMTS was the RenAM 500M. A laser-based powder bed machine, this platform is aimed at providing a higher level of automation than earlier Renishaw machines, such as the AM250 or AM400. Without offering specifics, Stuart Jackson, business development manager for additive for Renishaw noted that observation and measurement of the build process in additive manufacturing will grow in importance. “The industry is going to eventually go to a voxel-by-voxel real time inspection” of parts as they are grown, according to him. Collaboration of metrology and manufacturing on a very small scale.
3D Systems, famous for its additive manufacturing, is also creating a portfolio of integrated offerings. The company acquired Cimatron, maker of both CAD/CAM tools for production machining and tool making, as well as GeoMagic, the comprehensive software for metrology processing, CAD, reverse engineering, and haptic devices. They even offer some rudimentary FEA as part of the Cimatron 13 release. “This is for quick and dirty calculations, to preview and understand basics,” explained Rachael Dalton Taggart, marketing communications manager for the company. The complete set of software allows for a single environment to reverse engineer, design, create manufacturing programming via CAM, and create inspection programs, including using data from scanners to automatically bring physical objects into CAD.